Ben Roethlisberger’s injury might be a blessing for Steelers

NFL News, Pittsburgh Steelers

Losing Ben Roethlisberger appears to be a crippling blow for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it could end up helping their future prospects.

The biggest storyline coming out of Week 2 was the announcement by the Pittsburgh Steelers that franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would miss the rest of the season with an elbow injury that will require surgery. After starting the season 0-2, things seemingly couldn’t have gone worse for Pittsburgh.

However, could this injury be a blessing in disguise for Pittsburgh? That likely depends on what you thought of the Steelers heading into the 2019 season. If you were one who believed that Pittsburgh was a darkhorse candidate to win the AFC and could complete with the likes of Kansas City and New England, this injury is devastating. Without Roethlisberger behind center, the Steelers are unlikely to make the playoffs, let alone compete for a Super Bowl this season.

But if you are one who believed that the window had already closed shut on Pittsburgh, this injury could help the Steelers find some clarity moving forward. Roethlisberger will be 38 the next time he is healthy enough to play football, and there are already some wondering if this isn’t the end for the elite quarterback. However, Roethlisberger vows that he will play next season and intends to honor his three-year contract extension that he signed last season. Now, Pittsburgh will get an extended look at the second-year quarterback, Mason Rudolph from Oklahoma State.

Coming out of college, Rudolph was a severely underrated prospect throwing for nearly 14,000 yards and 92 touchdowns. More impressively, Rudolph thrived on third downs, averaging 8.35 yards per attempt. During his senior season, he completed 61 of 102 passes for 852 yards and nine touchdowns on third down as he and James Washington developed a special connection. He was Oklahoma State’s most prolific passer in team history, setting records for passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, among others.

After a fantastic preseason where he thoroughly beat out backup Josh Dobbs, Rudolph is going to get the chance to start for the Steelers over the next 14 games of the season. This is a fantastic opportunity for Rudolph as he is playing with a veteran team that is ready to compete right now. Better yet, it’s a team that has no incentive to tank after just trading away their 2020 first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

In Rudolph’s first game action of his NFL career, he played well against an outstanding Seattle team. He finished the game completing 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Take a look at his passing chart for Week 2, courtesy of the NFL’s Next Gen Stats:

Rudolph’s interception in that game wasn’t his fault as he put a pass right on the money to Donte Moncrief, which deflected off his hands into the arms of a Seattle defender. While Pittsburgh did throw some passes short and behind the line of scrimmage to get their new quarterback comfortable, Rudolph wasn’t afraid to take chances down the field. He completed three-of-six passes beyond 10-yards, and two of the incompletions were dropped passes.

One of the best traits about Rudolph coming out of college was his accuracy. When he is protected well, he has no problem putting the ball exactly where it needs to be. In Week 2, that once again proved to be true as he threw just three inaccurate passes, according to No Checkdowns. With Pittsburgh having one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, Rudolph should have every chance to succeed with the Steelers early in his career.

While there is certainly the chance that Rudolph thrives in Pittsburgh, the better probability is that he proves not to be a franchise quarterback. It’s just not very often mid-round quarterbacks turn out to be the savior of an organization.

How unlikely is it to find a hidden gem at the quarterback position after the first two rounds? Since 2001, there have been 159 quarterbacks drafted from rounds 3-7. Of those 159 quarterbacks, only three have made multiple Pro Bowls; Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, and Matt Schaub. The odds of Rudolph turning into the team’s next Pro Bowl passer do seem quite daunting given the league’s recent history of mid-round passers.

Assuming Rudolph shows that he isn’t the long-term answer for the Steelers, they can look to begin the process of adequately replacing Roethlisberger during the 2020 offseason. Again, without Roethlisberger’s injury, it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh ever would have seen Rudolph start a game during his rookie contract as Roethlisberger is signed through the 2021 season. This gives Pittsburgh a chance of seeing what his primary backup has to offer heading into the next decade.

At the very least, Pittsburgh will have some clarity about the future of their quarterback position by the end of this season. If Rudolph shows enough promise as a potential starter, Pittsburgh can keep him behind Roethlisberger for at least another season. And by the off-chance that he surprises everyone and turns out to be the next Dak Prescott or Russell Wilson, the Steelers could move on from Roethlisberger reasonably easily during the 2020 offseason.

These next 14 games might be rough for Pittsburgh in the win/loss column, but they could be the most important 14 games for the team in the last two decades. No matter how this plays out in Pittsburgh, the Steelers are getting the rare chance to peek into the future to see what the next decade might look like for the six-time Super Bowl champions.

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